Blended Synchronous Learning


Depiction of hybrid virtual classroom from Raes et al. (2020)

Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL) Taxonomy

Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL) is a Teaching and Learning Activity Type, as part of a Dual Delivery approach. For more general advice on Dual Delivery, be sure to review BEL+T's Dual Delivery Guide.

In BSL, the same teaching and learning activities are experienced by all students at the same time, with some students face-to-face and others online. The BSL approach is valuable, as it enables all students enrolled within a dual delivery subject to come together and synchronously engage in the same learning experience. This can be beneficial for cohort building and fostering a sense of belonging

As BSL practices develop, a range of approaches are emerging to meet the needs of particular pedagogical approaches. Whatever form BSL takes, however, the Key Considerations for Dual Delivery (Learner Equity and Access; Cohort Building; Staff and Student Expectations) remain important touchstones. It is also crucial to consider local time zones for all students when planning activities and considering expectations of student engagement—underscoring Learner Equity and Access as a particularly important consideration. Dual Delivery subject coordinators who are considering BSL sessions or activities are encouraged to contact BEL+T to discuss.

BEL+T had developed a taxonomy of four approaches to BSL.

  • BSL Sessions in BSL Rooms

    The University has upgraded several teaching spaces for Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL) Sessions. A complete list can be found here, including rooms in the Glyn Davis Building. These are referred to as “BSL Rooms,” and subject coordinators whose subjects have been allocated as Dual Delivery/BSL will be timetabled to these rooms. The technology in BSL Rooms provides technical capability for remote students to be virtually present and interact with campus-based students and staff. For the sake of remote student participation, this includes using the specialised microphones and cameras to capture activities. See below for more specific guidance about facilitating BSL Sessions in BSL Rooms.

  • BSL Live-Streamed Sessions (LSS)

    The University has introduced 'BSL live-streamed sessions' (LSS), which will enable staff to live-stream sessions in teaching spaces fitted with Echo360 Lecture Capture technology. Remote students are then able to access the session through Lecture Capture on the subject’s Canvas site. The advantage of livestreaming a timetabled lecture versus posting a recorded lecture is that it allows staff to integrate cohort-wide synchronous interactive tools into the session, such as Poll Everywhere or Padlet. This positions timetabled lectures as opportunities to bring all students together and foster cohort building. However, staff should be aware of the challenges in designing engaging sessions that support cohort-wide engagement. Delivery of a lecture is only one aspect of these sessions, and effort must be directed towards understanding and optimising the online student experience.

  • Distributed BSL

    In addition to whole-cohort activities in dedicated Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL) Rooms or lecture halls, asking students to work in distributed groups comprised of mixed learning modes represents another form of BSL. This could include groups of students meeting in separate Zoom breakout rooms, with blended learning mode students distributed on campus. This represents a strategy for avoiding the audio feedback challenges that can occur in BSL Rooms.

    Distributed BSL also includes students working collaboratively outside of timetabled sessions, which can offer flexibility as groups can meet synchronously to suit their schedules. One ABP coordinator of a landscape architecture studio in Semester 1 employed a form of BSL for student-led site visits, with geographically distributed students “accompanying” those able to access the local site via smartphone technology. This creative response highlights the range of TLA designs within BSL.

  • “DIY” BSL

    Some subject coordinators have begun experimenting with “DIY” Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL) approaches in other campus learning spaces in order to facilitate cohort-wide interaction. For instance, subjects that are conducted in specialised learning environments, like studio spaces or computer labs, are developing their own approaches to BSL. Keep in mind that these approaches must take into account the particular circumstances of each on-campus space, and coordinators will need to manage tech setup on a session-by-session basis. Key Considerations of Dual Delivery (Learner Equity and Access; Cohort Building; Staff and Student Expectations) remain applicable and should be central to the design of any BSL session. Please contact BEL+T if you would like to discuss.

    For guidance on borrowing 'DIY' BSL Kits from the ABP Loans Desk, click on the button below.

    DIY BSL Kits

Special Advice for BSL Rooms

For it to function effectively, BSL Sessions must be supported by online collaboration tools that are enabled with video and audio for live streaming. At the University of Melbourne there are several teaching spaces that have been ‘fit-out’ with technology to support BSL, including special cameras and microphones. Using this successfully requires preparation and familiarity with the technology, and getting the technology right is key to providing an equitable experience for students of both learning modes.

Learning Environments has general guidance on Key Considerations in Facilitating BSL, which includes information about technical support from Field Services. Once you have familiarised yourself with the principles of operating a BSL classroom, Learning Environments' BSL Quick Start Guide and Field Services' BSL User Guide video are useful resources.

Sample arrangement for a BSL Session conducted in a BSL Room (BEL+T, 2021)
  

Although staff engaging with BSL will develop their own strategies for success, those new to it should be aware of the following challenges and possible solutions.

Challenge

Advice

Cognitive overload for staff from having to split their attention across students working in learning modes.

Specific issues for staff include:

a) Giving equal attention to both learning modes (i.e. giving timely responses to questions);

b) Discerning how well students of both learning modes are comprehending or engaging.

If possible, co-teach or arrange for additional support. This support role is essential for monitoring, facilitating and relaying student contributions across both two learning modes. They can also manage the audio/visual system at the lectern, particularly when switching between speakers, screens, platforms or activities. It is important for the support staff to have access to a separate device to join the Zoom meeting, allowing them to monitor what online students can see/hear while managing the chat function.

Adjusting to BSL can be exhausting, so do ensure teachers and students get regular breaks!

Online polls or quizzes can also be used to gauge comprehension/engagement, paying particular attention to how online students respond. You might also start synchronous sessions with a recap Canvas discussion board activity. Finally, it may be necessary to offer online students dedicated Q&A sessions, especially around assessment tasks.

It sounds like the preparation time needed to effectively run a BSL session is extensive.

Teachers who have succeeded in BSL emphasise good preparation as being key. In addition to gaining familiarity with BSL technology, it will be important to communicate BSL-related logistics to students as early as feasible. Then, share your lesson plan with students at the start of each BSL session, identifying activities and breaks.

Other preparative strategies include: uploading to shared platforms any content that students might need to access during the BSL session; setting up virtual platforms and breakout rooms for interactive activities; outlining opportunities for on-campus and online students to interact through the BSL technology.

For BSL group work, should I combine face-to-face and online students or keep them in separate groups?

For technical reasons, it is more straightforward to form groups comprised of only online and only on-campus students. If you are new to BSL, it may be prudent to avoid mixed groups.

For groups of remote students, you may want to create breakout rooms in your main Zoom meeting. Note that if you are in a BSL room and you want to ‘check in’ with online breakout rooms, you will want to sign-in on a separate device to avoid your private discussion with individual groups being broadcast to everyone in the room via the main speakers.

Having multiple groups join Zoom from the BSL room can present audio challenges. To facilitate groups comprised of “Zoomies” and “Roomies”, each on-campus student will need a device to join online breakout rooms, and headphones to avoid audio interference from their peers.

How can I record and share BSL sessions with students on Canvas?

What are the implications for student privacy?

Importantly, a BSL approach to dual delivery centres around synchronous learning activities and interaction. Other dual delivery approaches might better accommodate students unable to attend synchronous sessions or those who rely on recordings to engage.

Where it is deemed valuable to record a BSL session, you should first consult the advice that UoM has prepared about Student Privacy in Zoom and act accordingly. Also note that each BSL-enabled space will have posters to ensure on-campus students are aware that personally identifiable information (i.e. images of them via cameras) may be captured as part of a BSL or LSS activity. Options for students who don’t want personally identifiable information captured will be clearly stated. Seating areas in each BSL- and LSS-enabled teaching space that are excluded from the cameras’ usual fields of view will be marked using stickers and decals, flagging to students that they should sit in these areas if they wish not to be filmed.

Recording BSL Sessions in BSL Rooms  via Zoom captures all the channels within the Zoom session (i.e. remote students, classroom activities and cameras), but note that breakout room activity cannot be recorded. Staff should set Zoom to record to the University’s cloud storage (instructions here).

Additional Resources